Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Emilien Urbach

Whistleblower. The young biologist from Nice highlights large doses of cyanide in the blood of demonstrators exposed to this chemical weapon.

“Cyanide in the tear gas used for law enforcement? Would the government poison the population? Unthinkable! It was the first reaction of Alexander Samuel, a math teacher and doctor of biology, when the yellow vest Julien Chaize, in April 2019, asked him to study this hypothesis. Six months later, the young scientist from Nice is convinced, significant doses of poison circulate in the blood of gassed demonstrators.

This conviction disturbs. On Saturday November 2, Alexander was taken into police custody on the grounds that he was implicated in a symbolic, bio-painted attack on a bank. He denies it but remains locked up for forty-eight hours. His home is searched. Its computer equipment and many documents are thoroughly inspected. A military manual from 1957, “on protection against combat gases”, is seized and destroyed.

Away, he observes the violence

This episode is apparently unrelated to his research on tear gas. In any case, the biologist has already compiled his work in a report. It will be published in the coming days by the Toxicology Chemistry Association, founded by André Picot, honorary director of the chemical risk prevention unit at the CNRS. The latter will co-sign the Alexander publication alongside other researchers and doctors.

There was nothing to suggest such a result when, at the beginning of spring, Alexander went for the first time to a demonstration of yellow vests. “I was suspicious,” he admits. In the Alpes-Maritimes, the far right was very present at the start of the movement and my environmental convictions were at odds with the demands linked to fuel taxes. Curious, however, he went to the rally organized on March 23 in Nice.

At a distance, he observes the violent police charges during which the head of Attac, Geneviève Legay, is seriously injured. Alexander does not attend the scene directly but he sees the street medics, these militant rescuers who intervene during the demonstrations, prevented from intervening and being arrested. Alexander films. He was immediately placed in police custody. It’s his first time.

“I was shocked,” says the scientist. The conditions of my detention, the lies of Emmanuel Macron and the prosecutor concerning Geneviève Legay made me stand in solidarity with the movement. He decides to gather everything that could make it possible to establish the truth and to pass it on to yellow vests who intend to seize the United Nations. Among them, Julien Chaize wants to convince him to look into the case of a demonstrator who, following an exposure to tear gas, displayed an abnormally high level in the blood of thiocyanate, molecule formed after the assimilation of cyanide by the liver.

This is an isolated case. Impossible for Alexander to see in it evidence of massive poisoning of the population. Incredulous, he participated in other demonstrations and observed the reactions of people exposed to the gases. Vomiting, irritations, disorientation, loss of consciousness … these fumes don’t just make you cry.

Alexander consults the scientific literature. The tear gas component used in France is 2-Chlorobenzylidene malonitrile. As it is considered a chemical weapon, its use is prohibited in the context of armed conflicts. Not for policing. For the biologist, the verdict is clear, this molecule, once present in the blood, releases cyanide. Several studies since 1950 confirm this. None said otherwise. But this poison is also present in cigarettes and a multitude of foods. Its dangerousness is therefore a question of dosage. How to measure it?

Alexander and three doctors in yellow vests then proposed to the demonstrators to have their blood analyzed to determine a level of thiocyanate. But this marker is not reliable enough. Cyanide must be quantified. However, the poison is only detectable in the blood for a few tens of minutes. Armed with a kit of tests, prescriptions and forms to be signed by the candidates for an exam, they decided to take blood and urine samples directly during the demonstrations of April 20 and May 1.

The results are edifying

The results of the first samples confirm the significant presence of cyanide, but do not give the precise dosage. On June 8, in Montpellier, the team perfected their protocol. Alexander, the three doctors and a few accomplices make themselves guinea pigs from their experience. They test their blood before the demonstration and afterwards. The results are edifying. Scientific community considers cyanide poisoning

Émilien Urbach

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